Homeless men in Seattle refuse to leave shelter on April 1, 1939.

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1931

On April 1, 1939 in downtown Seattle, some 500 men, former employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), refuse to leave their dormitory in a former box factory at 213 1/2 2nd Avenue S when the state welfare department ends rent payments. The men organize a central committee headed by A. J. Farley who states, "There are no bums or dehorns here. They're all working men, and each one will get out as soon as he finds something to do."

The building in question was owned by a trust, leased to the Salvation Army, and managed by developer Henry Broderick. Steam heat and hot water service were cut off, but water and electricity (provided by city utilities) were kept on. The men subsisted on coffee, bread, and onions which they obtained by "soliciting."

Cuts in state and federal funding for the WPA and Social Security affected 13,214 persons in King County. The "relief crisis" resulted in a homeless encampment of 300 on the lawn of the County Courthouse at 3rd Avenue and Yesler Way, which called itself Governor Martin's Starvation Camp No. 2. City officials eventually moved this group to a building at 118 1/2 3rd Avenue S. and King County issued vouchers to the people on relief amounting to 20 cents a day for each person or $2.80 a month for each family member. None of this expense had been budgeted.

In 1940, the Social Security Administration reported that of 123 of the largest U.S. cities, Seattle was "by far the most seriously affected" by these cuts in New Deal programs.



Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 3, 1939, p. 1; Ibid., April 4, 1939, p. 1; Ibid., April 5, 1939, p. 1; Ibid., April 6, 1939, p. 1; Ibid., April 8, 1939, p. 6; Richard C. Berner, Seattle 1921-1940 (Seattle: Charles Press, 1992), 413-415.

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